I remember 9/11, and I remember it well. I was still in college, though on Tuesdays I had no classes. After I got out of bed, I went into the living room where Dad was watching the television, saw the smoking images of the World Trade Center, and thought at first that it was a movie. After watching for a few minutes I realized in horror that this was an actual news report.
I remember the shock and terror of that moment, and for the next few days I felt numb. I remember wondering if the world was coming to an end, or if the United States was going to be taken over by…well I had no idea who at the time. I realized with a shock that if the USA were to be taken over, our revered Constitution would become nothing more than an outdated, historical piece of paper. And then, after a few days as the shock wore off and I realized that neither the world nor the USA was about to end, I noticed a few other things.
There was a great surge in Christian religiosity in the months following the attacks. Not that this didn’t make sense—turning to the sense of certainty and comfort of religion is a normal response for people who suddenly feel frightened and helpless and uncertain of their future. I was right in the middle of it singing “God Bless America” with all the other people I knew…even though there was one factor of the 9/11 attacks that would forever mar my view of religion. It was the fact that the men who flew those planes into those buildings, killing tens of thousands of innocent people, were motivated at least in part by a strong religious faith. I was also deeply disturbed by the reports of attacks against peaceful Muslims, and others who looked like they might be Muslims (including one Coptic Christian man from Egypt), by Americans who were driven to a fury of prejudice and hatred by the actions of a few terrorists.
And I remember the hubbub about this particular piece of rubble from the buildings that just happened to be in the shape of a cross. Now, the state of New York wants to include this broken portion of building support, not as a remnant of the building to help us remember, but as a Christian cross. And not only in its original configuration but carefully air-lifted and placed upon a pedestal. How convenient is it for Christians that their symbol is in the same shape as a common building support?
At any rate, it was not only Christians but all Americans from many religions and backgrounds and ways of life that were affected, directly and indirectly, by the events of 9/11. To me, 9/11 is a reminder of how faith, even though it is a comfort to some people, can also be a force for incredible and tragic harm. I imagine that faith comforted the hijackers as they rushed toward the towers at around 500 miles per hour.
So, should we have a Christian cross, a sectarian religious symbol, as the attraction of the World Trade Center? Does this make the site more comforting, more inviting, more consoling to Christians and less comforting, less inviting, and less consoling to everyone else who may wish to go there to remember? I can’t see how it could be otherwise. This memorial should be something that is for all Americans, not something that divides us by religion or by anything else.
So, for this reason, I stand with American Atheists in opposing the WTC cross.